Acme Cafe opening soon…
Driving up to Peggy and Alan’s house is like going back in time. A long narrow street lined with perfectly symmetrical trees. Cute square houses that date back to wartime years. Their house is simple but rich with nostalgia, maybe it’s the beautiful vegetable garden that replaces much of their lawn in the back, or the vintage looking kitchen with black check floors and lemon colored cupboards. I have known Peggy and Alan for years and the only difference between their style and way of life now is the tell tale markings of two little boys. Where perhaps used to sit a row of herbs or flowers now sit Lego creations making their home even more approachable, unpretentious and warm.
This is not to say at all that this warm simplicity reflects their meticulous eye for art and perfection in any way. Peggy has worked in the restaurant industry for more that 20 years. She is no stranger to the complexities of ultra fine dining having worked in Vancouver’s finest restaurants. She is also one of the best bakers that I know. Alan is an established photographer with shows and collections worldwide. A graduate from Emily Carr, his unique style of photographing architecture is undeniably Alan Hoffman. When you look at his art, you are taken on a journey through time where feelings and memories are evoked in a way you never expected. The two of them are a family that lives between two worlds, well acquainted in the realities of 2010 with a grounded value system reminiscent of a 1920’s family. All this leads me to say they are a perfect fit for their new Acme café located in the original city hub of Vancouver on the corner block of Hastings and Abbot.
Let me take you back in time. Their restaurant is located in the original ‘Paris Block’. The building was built in 1907 and was home to Pierre and Sons Ltd., a shoe and boot manufacturing company. The Paris Block was originally known as the Eastern Building, and attracted prominent tenants from the beginning. Not long after its construction, the upper floors became the Strathcona Hotel and there are still remnants of the painted signage for both these businesses still visible on the east and west exposures of the building.1
(some photos @paris block on facebook)
This area was known as the blue-collar strip, it was bustling but not rich. Several large retail outlets existed here once upon a time as well as nightly entertainment. The combination of entertainment and retail appealed to everyone in the area. Many smaller businesses also thrived, catering to day-time shoppers drawn to Hastings Street by the larger outlets, as well as to the daily needs of local residents. These smaller operations included restaurants, cafes, banks, groceries, confectionery stores, furniture stores, jewelers, newsstands, bookstores, drugstores, crafts and souvenir stores, barbers and hair salons, and more. Life was simpler and existed within the local community.2 This area is the perfect historical setting for the addition of Acme café. A café that represents a throw back to the past, a past where community, neighborhoods, blue collar workers, tradesmen (trades people?) existed symbiotically. Each depended on the other for goods and services and the gap between the poor and rich was not so wide.
The unique history of the area as well as the present problems is not lost on Alan and Peggy. When I asked them about the issues of homelessness and the decline of the area they responded with compassion but don’t pretend to know any of the answers or the solutions. Alan said, “we just want to create a place that is comfortable, homey and familiar, to do our trade to the best of our abilities, not be the flavor of the month but just do really well in our corner of the world”. They are excited to co-exist with a neighborhood that they know already exists and has existed for some time. Their hopes for the diner is that it would be a place where everyone feels like they belong no matter what their status in life. The menu is one of familiar and adapted comfort foods like; breakfast with home-made granola or scotch egg, lunch and dinner with a family recipe for melt in your mouth corned beef or a classic meatball sandwich. They will have soups and grilled cheese sandwiches as well as a “high falutin” grilled cheese sandwich with cheeses from around the globe. It will be a place not unlike them, simple, recognizable, non-pretentious and damn good.
Now for the best part of the story: PIE. They will have pie, lots of pie, berry pie, pie with different types of pastry, cream pie, tasty pie, many pies…okay, can you tell how excited I am about the pie. When I was over chatting with this delicious couple, Peggy brought out her Lemon Meringue Pie…one of my favorites. I bit into a great cloud of fluffy meringue with a lemon filling that had the perfect amount of tart and sweet. I savored every bite. I am not sure if she noticed but I scraped up all the crumbs, my plate was clean. She gave me the recipe to share with you, another example of their generosity and confidence in what they are all about. We all know those stingy restaurants that withhold recipes…like we could ever perfect it at home.
The Acme Café will be a true reflection of who they are with an uncompromising commitment for their personal and professional values as well as the attention and detail required to creating the perfect comfort food. It is opening soon-ish, I will keep you posted!!
So with a drum-roll, here is Peggy’s Lemon Meringue Pie.